Friends, Conservatives, Liberals, lend me your ears.1
I'm starting a crusade to Make America Ask Questions & Respond to Facts Again. Who's with me?!
I'm not going to subject you guys to the rabbit holes I have run down the past few weeks. It's enough to make Elliott in Mr. Robot seem like the modern day Socrates. (Don't google that if you haven't watched it. Just watch it, mmkay?)
What I AM going to do is make a non-partisan plea for everyone to Calm the 4$&# Down, take a pause on political email forwards and Facebook shares, and find some footing in reality.
That's what I've been doing for the past few weeks, and I'd like to share my findings with you.
The 24-Hour News Cycle
I've barely broken my fourth decade on this planet, and I can distinctly remember a time when you had to wait five-plus minutes to see if your landline would even connect to the World Wide Web. Our wildest techno dreams back then were "having a tiny TV you could watch anywhere you wanted, any time you wanted!" Like the true genies geniuses they are/were Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made it happen—and so much more!
This is not the time to grapple with the social and intellectual ramifications of technology. All I'm3 saying is, The vast news resources available in recent decades have increased competition for audience and advertiser attention, prompting media providers to deliver the latest news in the most compelling manner in order to remain ahead of competitors.
The 24-Hour News Cycle thrives on adrenal responses, fast-twitch reflexes, and that pesky human emotion rollercoaster called the limbic system. (When the robot overlords take over, the limbic system is straight out, I can tell you that right now.)
What I want to encourage us all to do is take a beat, and do some research. We do have that Great Library of Alexandria in the sky (ahem, Wikipedia) at our fingertips all hours of the day and night.
Let's mine it for data.
Feelings Are Facts (According to Some People's Feelings)
Marc Chernoff recently wrote about the human propensity for mingling fantasy with reality, and how we end up with a bee in our bonnets when things don't play out the way we want them to. EDITED TO ADD: Mark Manson put out a cogent if sometimes crass article on this today. It's worth reading.
My fantasy tells me I should be able to sleep every day till 9am, have a leisurely breakfast and heart-warming interactions with my children, then we spend the afternoon pleasantly pursuing our own aims near each other but not all up in each other's grills. This rarely happens. I can either be miserable because Life Isn't Fair, or I can confront reality, accept it, and enjoy life as it is.
The 24-Hour News Cycle is powered by Life Isn't Fair. When our source code connecting us to reality (aka social media) is hardwired to our basest instincts4, we drift away from a shared view of reality and end up on desert islands where perceptions ruled by feelings are holy scripture, where vice presidential nominations are announced via Twitter.5
Here's an example of irrational feelings going to battle with objective reality, and irrational feelings coming out on top:
When a CNN newswoman asked Newt Gingrich about FBI statistics showing crime is down across the country—not in every single city, mind you, but on average across the country—he fell back on feelings, saying,
"The average American, I will bet you this morning, does not think crime is down, does not think they are safer. ... Current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics, which theoretically may be right, but it's not where human beings are. ... As a political candidate, I will go with how people feel, and you can go with theoreticians." —Newt Gingrich on CNN
Friends, statistics are not liberal or conservative. They're numbers.
And to assuage any feelings that I'm being a liberal attacking a conservative, here's an example from the Bernie-or-Bust movement:
"'That’s what a lot of people feel [that they should now vote for Hillary], but in my opinion, I do not believe that she is better,' Kurek said. 'The things that we all fear in Trump we have already seen from Hillary Clinton. There’s no doubt in my mind that she would be bad if not worse.' ...
Due to their certainty about their own correctness, they see themselves as the most legitimate actors in U.S. politics, regardless of what happened at the ballot box or the DNC."
A Side Example of Popular Feelings Skewing Justice
Hillary Clinton and the "Emails Scandal" vs. General David Petraeus and the Actual Classified Information Breach Scandal
POINT: Hillary Clinton has been put through the ringer for using a private email server that could have potentially compromised classified materials (but didn't). We're still hearing about it, even though the FBI has stated that her actions were "extremely careless" but recommended no charges be filed. Despite this, Congress reopened the investigation. And you can buy a "Hillary for Prison" yard sign on HillaryForPrison.net if it feels right to you.
COUNTERPOINT: General David Petraeus, as the director of the CIA, actually physically gave classified information to his mistress. Then he lied about it. Then he admitted to it. This is a court-marshallable offense (as is adultery, incidentally). The FBI wanted to charge him with lying to the FBI AND for breaking a portion of the Espionage Act. But...he made a plea with the justice department that they haven't disclosed. His punishment? He's been sentenced to two years of probation and a $100,000 fine. (Did you know that? I had to look it up, because I hadn't heard about it.) I have not been able to find any "Petraeus for Prison" yard signs.
And therein lies my point: Look. Stuff. Up.
The Best Thing You Can Do Is...
Question everything. If a reputable source makes a claim, search around to find out what the differing opinions are—even if you agree with the presented opinion.
If a study is cited, google that study and find out who sponsored it, then google whichever entity sponsored it. If no study or statistic is cited, google to find out if there are any.
If you're not sure how something works, look it up on Wikipedia. That's how I educated myself on the Supreme Court Justice appointment process (p.s. the next president can't wave a magic wand and appoint Voldemort to the Supreme Court, so let's not get our panties in a wad. There's a nomination, then a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, then the SJC votes whether or not to send the nominee to the full Senate, where the nominee has to be confirmed. THEN the president "appoints" the judge. So.)
TIP: Wikipedia isn't a source. Wikipedia DOES, however, cite sources. And those sources can be checked.
This is going to take more time than you're probably spending now. That's probably a good thing. And it'll be time well spent.
Collect Research, From a Variety of Sources
Turns out the five-point essay from ancient high school curricula and the dreaded research paper from college were actually an attempt at teaching some concepts. Concepts like,
o check your sources
o double check your sources
o cite your sources
o consider both sides of the issue
It's tempting to discount certain sources as "liberal" or "conservative"—and some most definitely are. But there's a difference between The New York Times and some random website (usually with some clever form of "conservative" or "liberal" worked into the name) that states theories that feel right but lack evidence. The difference is called journalistic integrity.
And journalistic integrity is not feelings based, either, regardless of how you feel about a particular newspaper or TV network or website. A website/newspaper/magazine/network that is legitimate will name an article's author, possibly even give the author's credentials, cite multiple credible sources (either through footnotes, in-text citations, links, or all of the above), and post corrections as necessary.
Let's all agree to not be bamboozled
You guys. We're better than this. America is better than conspiracy-theory email forwards and bombastic Facebook memes. We are better than outlandish claims from talking heads that feed the 24-hour news cycle. We are smart enough to dig a little deeper.
The president is a person with a lot of power. But not absolute power. So no matter who wins the election, you can probably fend off the apocalypse with some good emotional hygiene.
In the meantime, before you cast your vote, I implore you: do some meaningful research.
Do some thought experiments in which you presume the opposite opinion is correct.
Imagine if everything about Hillary Clinton was the same—except imagine she was a male candidate. Imagine if everything about Donald Trump was the same—except imagine he was a female candidate. That's an interesting one.
Let me leave you with these inspiring, original words of mine:
Here are some reputable resources:
o PolitiFact.com (a Pulitzer Prize-winning website run by editors and reporters from, believe it or not, the Tampa Bay Times, and other news organizations that partner with them)
o PolitiFact.com/punditfact (which checks the claims of people who offer analysis on news via TV, radio, websites, blogs, etc.)
o VoteSmart.org presents the facts on more than 40,000 politicians. Their vetting process is completely transparent and about as equitable as is humanly possible.
For thought-provoking ideas on plagiarism, check out this article.
For a history of how the political situation became so stridently, gridlockingly partisan, check out this article.
1. This is not plagiarism for I am now crediting the source that I am satirizing: —Mark Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar.2
2. OR IS IT? Did you know there are suspicions surrounding Shakespeare being a plagiarist or not even the actual author of his works? Hahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!! There is no objective truth! lol jk
4. This metaphor doesn't make sense, according to "experts," but it feels right to me, so I'm keeping it.
5. This is not an opinion or a political statement. He actually did.
6. Nope, it's Dr. Seuss.